What’s in a Cloud?

The hot topic in the technology world right now is cloud computing.  Everybody’s talking about it, using it, monetizing on it.  It’s true meaning depends on who you talk to.  I won’t factor in enterprise cloud deployments, because that’s usually whatever they make of it.  Just look at all the different cloud-related products VMware & Citrix offers.  Instead, I’ll focus on two main players, Apple & Google.  Yeah, there’s Amazon & Microsoft, & they do offer pretty good services, but does anyone really use them?  More on that later.

Google considers their cloud to be entirely hosted via web browser based technologies.  The Chrome Netbook is basically a glorified full-screen Chrome browser built on top of a very lightweight Linux system.  You can’t do much with it if you don’t have a network connection.  All of your data is stored on Google’s servers, not the device you’re using.  While this does have some convenience (you shouldn’t have to worry about data loss), your data is not really in your control.  If Google’s servers go down, you can’t get your data.  Granted, that does not happen often.  I do seem to remember reading about a few Google accounts being accidentally disabled/deleted a while back.  Things like this that involves not having the data in your control will always sit in the back of your head, while you conjure up all those “what-if” scenarios.

Apple’s version of the cloud is better.  I might be biased, but I don’t think I am.  If I am, I’m still right.  iCloud revolves around sync.  I’d like to take a moment to point out that I saw that coming.  :)  There’s a reason why Dropbox is so successful:  because they do sync right.  If people have 3 computers, they can have their data on all 3, all the time, always synced up.  Apple apparently saw the response to Dropbox & designed iCloud around that idea.  People don’t want all their data on just the cloud or just this computer or just that computer.  They want it on ALL of their devices, ALL the time.  And why not?  Storage is cheap & getting cheaper; networks are getting faster.  It’s becoming feasible to actually have your data everywhere, whereas in the past it was not.

Google’s cloud seems to be based around a limitation that is quickly fading.  The requirement for having your data in one central location & using devices to view that data at that location is built around the idea that storage is limited, networks are limited, and sync is too complex to figure out.  I guess if you think about it, sync probably is too complex for others to figure out… too many devices on too many platforms & they all want to work their own way.  While a lot of people criticize Apple for being too controlling or limited, having that kind of ecosystem enables them to design a cloud like this, because they can predict how these devices will interact with one another a lot more… well… predictably.

Another point that’s probably more particular to me, but I think is a good one to make anyway, is security.  I gave up on trying to remember a handful of complex passwords for websites & services I use about a year ago.  I made the jump to using 1Password & haven’t looked back.  I have a extremely complex & random password for each site I visit, and each one is unique.  I have no idea what any of my passwords are, and I’m fine with that.  1Password stores them for me.  I can’t use any of my services without it, and I’m a lot safer for it.  So because of this, Google’s idea of of having access to all of my services on any device doesn’t appeal to me.  I honestly think it shouldn’t appeal to anyone.  I have access to all of my services on my devices, and that’s it.  If I don’t have one of my devices on me, it’s probably for a reason & I wouldn’t need to check those things anyway.  It’s definitely a minor sacrifice I’m willing to make to be that much safer.  Even with this rash of site hacking, I’m not worried at all.  If one of the sites happens to be one I use, I just generate a new, random, really long & complex password for the site & all of my devices get updated with it.  Problem solved.  I couldn’t do this on some random device I’ve never touched before.

So what about Amazon and Microsoft’s offerings?  The Amazon problem is complicated.  I don’t quite understand it very well from a consumer standpoint.  I think their problem is lack of hardware integration, and their cloud offerings are attractive price wise, but limited and missing some features.  Microsoft simply lacks innovation.  They’ll copy other ideas a year or so after someone else has done it.  Problem is, by then, people are already using that other service & have no desire to switch over.  All users really want from Microsoft is Windows & Office.

Google’s cloud doesn’t work for me, nor does it appeal to me.  Web apps have come a long way, but they’ll always be second to native apps.  By focusing on sync, Apple’s found a winner with iCloud.


The timing is uncanny:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/16/technology/personaltech/16pogue.html